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Faces of Recovery

Barbara Bensoussan

According to the US Department of Labor, some 14 million Americans are out of a job. Yet all isn’t bleak. People in our community, such as businessman David Hess and others, are trading in low-income jobs or outright joblessness for lucrative new careers — and sharing tips for how they did it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Almost everybody knows somebody who’s been hit hard by the loss of a job, and in today’s economy helping them find new work isn’t easy. “For every person we manage to place,” sighs Zisha Novoseller, executive director of the Emergency Parnossa Initiative, “I have five more people waiting for an opening.”

Until recently, David Hess was one of those still waiting for that opening. How did he survive the loss of a great job — and the loss of self-esteem that so often accompanies a loss of income? As has happened with others, he discovered that sometimes adversity can be a person’s best friend.


When Life Throws a Curve Ball

At age 33, David Hess looks so young and effervescent that you’d never guess he’s been through trials people twice his age have never had to cope with.

Originally from Los Angeles, from a modern Orthodox background, David decided after a year of studying in Eretz Yisrael that he wanted to move on to a more spiritually inclined track. He enrolled in Yeshivas Sh’or Yoshuv in Far Rockaway, and married his bashert.

The first curve ball came in 2000, during his shanah rishonah, when he found himself face to face with a cancer diagnosis. He went for treatment and the disease abated. Two years later, it came back.

“My insurance company would only send me to lower-tier doctors, who told me I had a very low chance of survival,” David recounts. “But I was helped out, baruch Hashem, by RCCS [the Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society]. They sent me to top experts, who told us, ‘We’ve seen this before. We can cure it.’ ”

He emerged from his ordeal with a clean bill of health, bli ayin hara, and set about the task of living. He took a job as the director of business development for a large company that manufactured reflective gear for industrial workers. He and his wife Rachael bought a house; the family was growing.

Then the recession hit, and his company laid off 60 percent of its work force.

“They were just trying to stay afloat, so development was no longer a priority,” he says. “It almost made it worse, psychologically, because I’d been doing a good job and I knew they were happy with me.”

Thus began a grim period of daily, fruitless searches through newspapers, of struggling to stay afloat, of accepting community food donations. David’s wife was a gifted preschool teacher and director of a local summer day camp, but her salary alone was pitifully inadequate to maintain their mortgage and monthly expenses.

“It was a nightmare,” David remembers. “We were facing possible foreclosure, getting phone calls from creditors. After beating cancer twice, now we were dealing with this. We felt like we couldn’t get out of this dark hole. It gets to the point where you feel like you don’t want to get out of bed!”

“The hardest part wasn’t even the bills!” Rachael comments. “When you’ve battled a life-threatening illness, it helps in terms of putting all the rest into perspective. Still, we couldn’t help but feel, ‘We’ve already battled so much — and now this?’

“What was really heartbreaking for me,” she continues, “was to see my husband, who wanted so badly to succeed and provide for us, feeling so terrible because he was unable to. He already felt guilty about having to put people through so much when he was sick — during all those months he couldn’t provide — and now he couldn’t provide again. He felt terrible about himself in a way that even his close friends and his rosh yeshivah couldn’t help with.”


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